A Cultural Connection: Japanese Hina Matsuri and Navratri Kolu

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Irving, Texas – My name is Jayashree Krishnan and I am an Indian by heart and birth. After marriage in 1998, I moved to the United States, a country rich in cultural and religious diversity. Being away from home, I had many doubts whether I would be able to find friendship and commonality with others. In the summer of 2002, my family and I moved from Texas to Washington DC. I decided to explore my new surroundings and get to know my neighbors. That is when I met my dear friend, Chiharu Tashibu, who had moved from Tokyo, Japan.

In the spring of 2003, my friend had invited me to her home to celebrate the Japanese festival named Hina Matsuri or “Doll Festival.” My first impression was that Hina Matsuri was similar to my Indian festival of Navratri Bommai Kolu. In both of these festivals, the females in the family take part in displaying dolls. I was amazed at how two different cultures have many similarities. I was greatly inspired by this commonality, and became interested to learn more about these traditional Japanese dolls and the Hina Matsuri festival.

The Hindu festival of Bommai Kolu, also known as Doll Festival, is a part of Navratri, where young girls and women display dolls and worship three Hindu Goddesses: Parvathi, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. Navratri is celebrated during the fall. Kolu are wooden stairs covered with cloth (usually the stairs of odd numbers – three, five, seven, nine, and 11) on which various dolls are placed. Dolls are displayed in a hierarchy order.


The lower steps show dolls portrayed in various social and economic settings. The middle steps are dedicated to Saints, Gurus, religious figures, and respected people in India and the world. The higher steps display many dolls of the Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Sacred writings, marriages, day to day life scenes, court life, toys, and any kind of miniature kitchen tools that a young girl would enjoy playing with are displayed on the steps.

Marapachi Bommai, which are wooden dolls of a couple symbolizing fertility and well-being, play an essential part of Bommai Kolu. These dolls are given to the bride by her parents to wish her a happy and prosperous married life. Every year, these dolls are decorated with new wedding dresses as a part of the Hindu tradition. Some of the dolls, including Marapachi Bommai, are very old as they have been handed down from generation to generation.Women in the community invite each other to their homes to see the Kolu displays, as well as exchange gifts and sweets.

The festival of Hina Matsuri is celebrated on March 3rd and is considered as a “Girl’s Day”. Families pray for their young girl’s happiness, well-being, and growth. Hina Matsuri originates from an ancient custom called Hina-Nagashi, in which hina dolls made out of straw are set afloat on a boat and sent down a river that finally joins the sea apparently taking away bad luck.


Several steps are covered with a red cloth and display a set of decorative dolls called Hina-ningyo, representing the members of the Imperial court. The Emperor, Empress, attendant, and the musician dolls, which are displayed, are made of wood and decorated in traditional court dress from the Heian period.These are a set of decorative dolls that are handed down from one generation to generation, or bought by a girl’s parents or grandparents for her first Hina Matsuri.

The size of the dolls and the number of tiers displayed vary, but usually the displays are of five or seven tiers. Single tiered decorations are also common.The top tier holds two Imperial dolls, the Emperor and Empress. The second tier holds three court ladies. The third tier holds five male musicians. The fourth tier holds two ministers. The fifth tier holds three samurais as the protectors of the Emperor and Empress. On the sixth and seventh tiers, a variety of small sized furniture, utensils, carriages, etc., are displayed.

Another name for this day is “Momo no Sekku,” which means Peach Blossom Festival. It is around this time when the peach blossoms bloom. In Japan, peaches are used to symbolize women. It refers to a sense of softness, beauty and peace – all qualities associated with Japan’s traditional female ideal. Peach also is a sign of fertility and happy marriage; hence, a branch of the peach plant is displayed on the tiered steps.

Girls dress up on this festival day in their best kimonos. They serve hishimochi, which are diamond-shaped rice cakes, and celebrate this festival by drinking shirozake, a sake made from fermented rice. Many families start preparing for this festival around mid-February, and put it away immediately after Hina Matsuri is over. There is a superstition that families slow to put away the dolls will have trouble marrying off their daughters.

After learning so much about these dolls and the festival, I enrolled in the Washington Japanese Dolls and Crafts School, and learned how to make these beautiful dolls. I learned two types of techniques, Kimekomi and Oshie crafts, and have continued this passion for Japanese culture by teaching the Oshie craft to others in Dallas, Texas. These dolls play a significant role in both Japanese and Indian cultures. Learning about the Japanese culture has been an enriching experience for me. I realized that although we all may come from different backgrounds and countries, basic culture and humanity unites us all.

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